ZEN AND THE ART OF NA­TURE AQUAR­I­UMS

Animal Scene - - FEATURE - Text by PA­TRI­CIA CALZO VEGA Photos by JEFFREY C. LIM

It used to be that aquar­ium dé­cor meant trea­sure chests and plas­tic mer­maids, or a pro­fu­sion of un­der­wa­ter plants ar­ranged the way one might style for­mal gar­dens, the re­sid­ing fish cho­sen out of whim or ac­cord­ing to the owner’s pre­ferred dec­o­rat­ing scheme with­out any thought for com­pat­i­bil­ity. In a word: ar­ti­fice. Man traps na­ture and bends it to his will. In the 1990s, a new style of aquas­cap­ing emerged, inspired by na­ture’s ma­jes­tic sights. In it, plants, rocks, and fish are cho­sen with care, each el­e­ment play­ing an in­te­gral role in the mini ecosys­tem. Na­ture is al­lowed to run its course, with a lit­tle help from hu­man hands. Dubbed “Na­ture Aquar­ium” by its cre­ator Takashi Amano, this method of aquas­cap­ing has gained trac­tion with hob­by­ists from all over the world, in­clud­ing the Philip­pines. Re­cently, an Aquar­ium Chan­nel was launched on lo­cal ca­ble tele­vi­sion (on Sky­ca­ble HD Chan­nel 244), fea­tur­ing model na­ture aquar­i­ums de­signed by ADA Na­ture Aquar­ium (ADANA) Philip­pines. An­i­mal Scene spoke to the founders of ADA Na­ture Aquar­ium Philip­pines, Joseph and Justin Uy, about this grow­ing move­ment in aquas­cap­ing.

Can you tell our read­ers what a Na­ture Aquar­ium is, and how this dif­fers from the usual aquar­ium? What are the ben­e­fits of such an aquar­ium for its own­ers?

The goal of Aqua De­sign Amano in de­sign­ing Na­ture Aquar­i­ums is to recre­ate na­ture. We use nat­u­ral ma­te­ri­als and live aquatic plants to make aquas­capes that bring na­ture in­doors. We get in­spi­ra­tion from land­scapes and nat­u­ral scenery like the Ama­zon for­est, moun­tain ranges, or sprawl­ing mead­ows. By recre­at­ing a nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment, our cus­tomers are able to for­get about the stress and prob­lems in the of­fice or city. The aquas­capes are much more re­lax­ing and pleas­ing to the eyes.

ADANA’S founder is “(the) first per­son in Philip­pines to have been per­son­ally trained by Takashi Amano him­self.” Can you tell us more about Mr. Amano and the aquar­ium phi­los­o­phy he es­pouses?

Sen­sei Takashi Amano is a na­ture lover. He is a well-known land­scape pho­tog­ra­pher and it is from his pho­to­graphs that he draws in­spi­ra­tion for his aquas­cape de­signs. Takashi Amano is the pi­o­neer of the planted aquar­ium hobby and de­vel­oped the art and science be­hind it. He is also very par­tic­u­lar about qual­ity and pre­sen­ta­tion, which is a known trait of the Ja­panese. In the end, his goal is for Na­ture Aquar­i­ums to give peo­ple a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of na­ture and how to care for it.

The Na­ture Aquar­ium phi­los­o­phy is the guid­ing prin­ci­ple be­hind the Aqua De­sign Amano’s aquar­i­ums and re­lated ac­ces­sories range. What ad­van­tages do aquar­ium own­ers de­rive from your equip­ment?

Aqua De­sign Amano’s prod­ucts are a blend of form and func­tion. The de­sign is sim­ple but the qual­ity is very su­pe­rior. ADA glass aquar­i­ums are made us­ing ul­tra clear low iron glass, which is crys­tal clear, and does not have the green tinge seen in or­di­nary glass. They are also [as­sem­bled] with­out braces or drip­ping sil­i­con on the edges. Glass is used for fil­ter pipes and dif­fusers, and clear acrylic for LED light­ing for ob­struc­tion-free view­ing of the en­closed aquas­cape.

The pris­tine look of this Na­ture Aquar­ium is main­tained by an ex­ter­nal fil­tra­tion sys­tem and its in­ter­nal cul­ture of micro­organ­isms (cul­ti­vated in the sub­strate) and al­gaeeat­ing an­i­mals, which can be in­tro­duced into the tank two to three days af­ter setup.

Un­like other sup­pli­ers, you of­fer reg­u­lar main­te­nance vis­its to your clients. You also of­fer to ed­u­cate them on how to de­sign and main­tain their na­ture aquar­i­ums. What made you de­cide to of­fer this ser­vice?

Given the busy sched­ules of our cus­tomers, time is truly gold for them. We un­der­stand this and wanted to cre­ate a worry-free Na­ture Aquar­ium ex­pe­ri­ence for our cus­tomers. It is also part of our thrust to ed­u­cate peo­ple about re­spon­si­ble fish keep­ing.

Can you share prac­ti­cal aquar­ium ad­vice for those who are look­ing into set­ting up a na­ture aquar­ium?

In the end, do what your heart de­sires. It’s hu­man in­stinct to keep things nat­u­ral. If it doesn’t look and feel nat­u­ral, then there must be some­thing out of pro­por­tion or out of place in the aquas­cape. Re­mem­ber that na­ture is not per­fect, and im­bal­ance is ac­tu­ally a good thing. Trial and er­ror is the best teacher.

ADA Na­ture Aquar­ium Philip­pines share their aquas­capes and dis­pense de­sign ideas and main­te­nance tips on Face­book (Adaphilip­pines), In­sta­gram, and Twit­ter (@ Adaphilip­pines).

If the up­keep and main­te­nance of aquas­capes is too much for you, or if you sim­ply pre­fer land over wa­ter, the ADA tank, light­ing, and tem­per­a­ture con­trol sys­tem can also be adapted for ter­ras­capes.

This Ama­zon Riverin­spired setup, in­hab­ited by an or­ange dis­cus and a school of te­tra, makes use of driftwood as a cen­tral fo­cal point, com­ple­mented by moss, ferns, and long-stemmed plants in the back­ground, with a pro­fu­sion of car­pet­ing plants at the fore­ground. In Aquar­ium Plant Par­adise (1997), Takashi Amano writes, “For the over­all im­pres­sion of the aquar­ium, it is not the form of the in­di­vid­ual rock that is sig­nif­i­cant; rather, the ef­fect achieved through the com­bi­na­tion of sev­eral rocks in a group that mat­ters.”

For smaller tanks, Takashi Amano sug­gests plac­ing the fo­cal point slightly off-cen­ter to give the il­lu­sion that the aquar­ium is more “am­ply dec­o­rated.” This also serves to draw at­ten­tion away from the back corners.

Rule of thumb for aquar­ium place­ment: keep the tank away from win­dows. Avoid plac­ing aquar­i­ums un­der di­rect sun­light, as this pro­motes al­gae growth. Sun­light may also com­pete with the aquas­cape’s light­ing de­sign and may cause the aquar­ium to look washed out.

Some Na­ture Aquar­i­ums, such as this one, pro­vide cover for fish to hide in and stay out of sight. This im­poses less stress on the fish; this, in turn, helps them re­tain their vi­brant color and ideal shape.

For moun­tain-inspired land­scapes, se­lect tiny fish for con­sis­tency of scale; their swimming mo­tions also serve to sim­u­late the flight of birds across the sky.

Those who pre­fer a min­i­mal­ist aes­thetic may pre­fer the iwagumi method, used pri­mar­ily in zen rock gar­dens. Rocks are of­ten ar­ranged in odd-num­bers, its asym­me­try a nod to the wabi-sabi aes­thetic.

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